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Working with standalone mobile apps
If you want to build an app for your service, you must get approval from the Government Digital Service (GDS).
GDS usually won’t give approval for native apps (device-specific apps which a user downloads from an app store and installs on a device they have).
This is because:
- the frontend of most government services can be provided effectively using open web standards without the need to code to proprietary platforms or maintain multiple versions
- government should focus on opening up data and APIs instead of monopolising native apps that can be marketed
Meeting user needs with mobile technology
More and more users are accessing digital services on mobile devices. This means they have higher expectations for the quality of mobile experiences.
You should keep up with developing standards. For example, there’s been recent progress on the following features:
- adding icons to a phone’s home screen
- sending push notifications
- allowing users to access your service while offline
- integrating your service with other parts of a user’s phone
- making payments
These features are increasingly available through standardised APIs for mobile web browsers, which are often categorised as ‘progressive web apps’.
Users don’t need to visit a platform-specific app store to install web-based applications. You can maintain and release them as part of the main service instead of maintaining and developing them separately.
Explore web standards approaches first
If you want to build a native mobile app (including ‘hybrid apps’ that wrap web views in native wrappers) you need to show you’ve explored web-standards approaches first.
Consider whether open data and APIs can allow others to meet users’ needs
If you think that there are newer ways to provide services that connect with yours or use your data, consider providing open data and APIs that allow for that.
This is often more effective than trying to do it all yourself.
Use GOV.UK Notify for notifications
If you want to build notifications into an application, you should consider using GOV.UK Notify
Use GOV.UK Pay to take payments
If you want take payment in an application, you should contact the GOV.UK Pay team. Email email@example.com.
Get approval to build an app
If you want to build an app, you need to make a proposal to do so and include it when you apply for spend controls approval.
Your proposal should show:
- why your users need the app
- why the user need for the app is important enough to users to justify the entire cost of your proposed app and its upkeep, and how you’ve decided this
- evidence of demand for this type of app among your target users (like examples of similar apps that have proven popular and evidence of their popularity)
- evidence to justify building an app for the platform on which you plan to build (for example, analytics data that shows the devices your users prefer)
You also need to include a list of third-party native or hybrid apps which have already been built to meet the user need you’ve identified for your proposed app.
If there are no third-party apps meeting the need, and the service or the content you’re looking to build an app for is already open to third parties via APIs or as open data, you should explain why you think nobody else has built an app.
If there are third-party alternatives, you should explain why you believe government should develop an app.
Stay up to date
Progressive web apps is a quickly developing area. The best way to keep track of it is by using blogs and online information, for example:
- Google’s progressive web apps site
- Progressive web apps: Escaping tabs without losing our soul (blog post)
- Getting started with progressive web apps (blog post)
You may also find these guides useful:
- Published by:
- Standards and assurance community
- Last update:
Guidance first published